Kindergarten students

Clockwise from left are New Albany Elementary kindergarten students Josiah Paz, Scarlett Morales, Reagan Howard, Noah Littlejohn and Avery Grey Robbins.

The Union County and New Albany school districts did better than the state average in terms of the percentage of students who were chronically absent from school last year, a new report shows.

Children are said to be chronically absent from school if they miss 18 days, or 10 percent of the school year, for any reason, including excused and unexcused absences and suspensions.

Statewide, about 13 percent of Mississippi students were absent 10 percent or more of the 2018-2019 school year.

In the New Albany School District, 8 percent of students were chronically absent compared to 9.9 percent in the Union County School District.

“Our teachers and administrators do an exceptional job of helping our students understand the importance of attendance in school,” said New Albany School District Superintendent Dr. Lance Evans. “We help our students understand that good attendance and being on time translates to good career readiness skills. We appreciate the support we receive from our parents in helping to insure that our students are in school regularly.”

The chronic absenteeism rates for the individual schools were as follows, New Albany Elementary, 5.1 percent; New Albany Middle School, 10.8 percent; New Albany High School, 11.5 percent; East Union, 11.26 percent; Ingomar, 7.8 percent; Myrtle, 10.9 percent; and West Union, 9.2 percent.

"The teachers and staff of the UCSD have high expectations for our students in all areas including attendance,” said Union County Schools Assistant Superintendent Windy Faulkner. “They build an environment and establish relationships that motivate our students to want to attend school daily." 

Ronnie Boyd, testing coordinator for the Union County School District, said coaches also help when it comes to school attendance.

“With our district, many of our high performing students are also athletes, and the added incentive from their coach helps in the classroom with their attendance,” said Boyd.

Lanier High School had the highest chronic absenteeism rate statewide at about 61.4 percent.

The Claiborne and Clarksdale Collegiate school districts had the lowest chronic absenteeism rates at less than 5 percent.

During the 2018-19 school year, 63,226 Mississippi students were chronically absent, which is a decrease of 19,746 students from the previous school year. Last year marked the lowest statewide chronic absenteeism rate since record keeping began.

“Our declining chronic absenteeism rate is encouraging, and it corresponds to rising student achievement statewide,” said Dr. Carey Wright, state superintendent of education. “Students who attend school regularly perform better academically.”

Similar to national trends, Mississippi kindergarteners have the highest chronic absenteeism rate among the elementary school grades at 13.3 percent statewide, then rates decrease steadily throughout grades 1 through 5.

The rates increase steadily throughout middle and high school. The statewide rate peaks in grade 12 at 26.2 percent, which is a significant decrease from 34.5 percent in 2017-18.

The MDE launched a statewide attendance awareness campaign in 2018 to encourage regular school attendance. The “Strive for Less than Five” campaign challenges students and school districts to reduce individual absences to no more than five absences over the course of the entire school year.

“Schools, parents and communities need to work together to make sure all children are attending school regularly,” Wright said. “Chronic absenteeism has a negative impact on student achievement because students who are not in school are not learning.”

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